Monroe attorney Steve Jefferson can no longer practice law in Louisiana or anywhere else after the state Supreme Court last week ordered his permanent resignation instead of facing discipline for allegedly defrauding a blind client of more than $1.8 million.
In October 2020, Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Robert Johnson imposed a $2-million judgment against Jefferson in a lawsuit alleging he commingled his client’s funds and committed several acts of malpractice. Jefferson has since appealed Johnson’s judgment, questioning the evidence that he still owed $2 million in light of having returned some $1.3 million as of December 2019.
The Supreme Court’s order on March 23 was the first action the high court has taken since November 2020 when it suspended Jefferson’s law license. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC), which is responsible for investigating and prosecuting attorneys, was investigating Jefferson for “serious attorney misconduct” and violation of state Rules of Professional Conduct, according to the Supreme Court.
Jefferson asked the Supreme Court’s permission that he be allowed to permanently resign in lieu of experiencing any discipline recommended by the ODC. ODC supported Jefferson’s request.
In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Jefferson can never again seek readmission to practice law.
The accusations that Jefferson committed malpractice and stole funds from his client, Joseph Bartucci Jr., first surfaced in a lawsuit filed by Bartucci in May 2018. Bartucci said he retained Jefferson as his attorney in 1991. In 2009, Bartucci said he gave Jefferson power of attorney to act exclusively on his behalf because of his own blindness and diminished mental faculties.
Some of the malpractice allegations included misleading Bartucci to sign a contract establishing a gambling business that ultimately was revealed to be a loan requiring Bartucci to repay money to other parties. Bartucci also claimed Jefferson failed to initiate divorce proceedings after four marriages, as he requested, resulting in Bartucci’s marriage to more than one woman at a time.
Jefferson signed an Oct. 16, 2017 affidavit admitting many of Bartucci’s allegations.
“Mr. Bartucci suffers from physical disabilities (brain damage, seizures, strokes, heart issues and he is blind),” Jefferson said in his affidavit. “He hired me as his attorney to handle investment and distributions of his family trust to distribute funds for his living expenses. While performing these duties, I commingled $1,187,000 of these funds with my personal and firm accounts and those funds are now unaccounted for.”
Jefferson also said he destroyed Bartucci’s medical records or allowed them to be destroyed.
Justice Jay McCallum, of Farmerville, wrote separately to concur with the Supreme Court’s decision, though he lamented the court could not award a money judgment to Bartucci.
“I write separately to emphasize that this court’s action does not, unfortunately, constitute a money judgment in favor of the victim,” McCallum wrote. “I share the view previously expressed by my colleagues that the victims of conversion or theft should be advised by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the purpose of attorney disciplinary proceedings, which are distinct and apart from a civil tort action for conversion or criminal prosecution for theft.”
“While respondent will no longer be allowed to practice law, this will not make the victim whole,” he added.
Justice Scott Crichton also wrote separately to concur with his colleagues, defending the court’s decision.
“I write separately to highlight that while this action serves the purpose of attorney disciplinary proceedings – i.e., to protect the public, maintain high standards of conduct, preserve the integrity of the profession, and deter future misconduct (per state law),” Crichton wrote. “It unfortunately does not provide relief to respondent’s client from whom respondent allegedly converted a staggering $250,000 of settlement funds.”
Bartucci drew national attention in the early 2000s after he sued the late singer-songwriter Michael Jackson, claiming Jackson kidnapped him in New Orleans in 1984 when Bartucci was 18 and molested him. Bartucci claimed Jackson sexually assaulted him repeatedly, in California as well as in a limo, and that the King of Pop and his agents abused him with razor blades, drugs and a steel wire. Bartucci claimed he had repressed the memories of what supposedly happened in 1984 until he saw a television documentary in 2003 about other allegations against Jackson. A federal judge dismissed Bartucci’s lawsuit in 2006 after Jackson’s attorneys presented evidence that Jackson was in California at the time when the kidnapping allegedly took place.